As you plan your upcoming Disney World vacation, one of the biggest decisions that you have to make is where to stay. At first, you might look at staying on property, meaning, hotels owned and managed by Disney themselves. If that doesn’t suit you then you’ll probably look a Disney Springs Hotel. And if there’s nothing there you’ll look off site.
There are a lot of things to consider outside of price though. Sometimes there is hidden value in staying on property and sometimes there’s not. In this post we’re going to cover these scenarios as well as all the benefits that are available to guests who choose to stay on property.
LET’S BREAK IT DOWN
Before we dive into that though we’re going to go over our two main topics which are Disney Hotels and Off Site Hotels. We’ll break them down so you have a clear understanding of that each of them are and the biggest differences between both.
After this we’ll go over the benefits that each one has to offer so you can see exactly what you’ll get (or miss out on) depending on where you choose to stay. We understand hotels aren’t that complicated but for guests who are visiting for the first time, it can be very helpful to see the differences which will help them make the best choice for their vacation.
There is an added benefit to using the Park Savers website when booking tickets and hotels and that’s that we can offer the best discounted prices for both. Be sure to see our partners pricing to help you save over $60 per ticket and hundreds on your hotel.
FIRST, DISNEY HOTELS
We we mentioned above, Disney Hotels are owned and operated by Disney. When you hear people mention they are staying “on property”, they are referring to these hotels. There are actually quite a few of them to choose from and they range from Value to Deluxe Villas.
These hotels are staffed by Disney Cast Members and ran on Disney’s watch. They are a way for guests to “stay in the magic” even when they’re not in the theme parks. They great thing about Walt Disney World Resorts is that many of them are themed to their surroundings and really keep guests stays magical.
For example, guests can stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge which is located on the same property as Animal Kingdom’s nature reserve. So the same animals that guests see in the theme park are also hanging around the hotel.
Don’t get tricked on Disney’s website where they mention hotels that aren’t theirs. This can be confusing. Be sure to see our list of official Disney Property Hotels. Keep in mind that there are some property hotels that offer both guest rooms and DVC rooms. DVC members have priority for DVC villas but all guests can book one if it’s available.
OFF SITE HOTELS
These hotels are located off Disney property or managed by a company other than Disney. We realise that sentence was sort of confusing so we’ll break it down. Not all hotels on Disney property are managed and owned by Disney. For instance, the Disney Springs area has several hotels that are owned and operated by other companies like Wyndham and Hilton. Disney has allowed these companies to build on their property and share revenue.
Another example if the Four Seasons Resort which is located on Disney property by Golden Oaks. It’s one of the nicest hotels on property and even offers a character breakfast. However, it’s still a Four Seasons hotel managed by that company.
There are several areas on property that have this sort of set-up. Disney Springs is one, Golden Oak and Bonnet Creek. Typically there hotels run cheaper per night that most Disney owned hotels but that’s not always the case. Price, however, is one of the main reasons guests look to book a non-Disney hotel.
Outside of these, off site hotels include areas that surround Lake Buena Vista. There are hundreds of options close by, many of them resorts featuring water parks of their own and transportation to the Disney Resort.
DISNEY WORLD HOTEL BENEFITS
There can be a lot of added value when staying at a Disney World Hotel. Sometimes guests just look and compare room prices and go with the lower, off site hotel because it’s cheaper. But what they are missing out on could end up making things even or in Disney’s favor.
We’ve listed the Disney World Hotel benefits below and then discuss them in a bit of detail so you know exactly what they are and the value they add to your stay. Keep in mind that during COVID some of these things may have been put on hold. Look for the asterisks.
- Disney’s Magical Express Service
- Theme Park Bus Transportation
- Package Delivery*
- Discounted MagicBands
- Cast Member Magic
- 60 Day FastPass+ Window*
- Extra Magic Hours*
- Extended Dining Reservations*
- Disney Dining Plan*
Disney’s Magical Express Service
This is one of the most overlooked benefits of staying at a Disney Property Hotel. The Magical Express service gives each guest in the room round trip motorcoach service from the Orlando Intl. Airport. When you break it down, it’s about a $30 value per person on the cheap end. For a family of 4 that’s $120 “savings” or something you don’t have to pay for unlike an off site hotel.
The service is scheduled in advance and takes you from the airport to your resort hotel and then back on your departure date. At one point it used to include airport luggage check-in as well which was convenient. The service is scheduled to end Dec. 31st, 2021.
60 FastPass+ Booking Window
In terms of value, this may be one of the best Disney Property Hotels have to offer. It can give you a sense of relief to know that Flight of Passage, Slinky Dog Dash or Frozen FastPasses will be available when you go to book them. That’s because 60 days out is about as early as you can book.
Anyone else who stays off property can only book 30 days in advance and at that point many bigger attractions may be unavailable. The opportunity to almost guarantee you ride the attractions you desperately want to is almost invaluable really. Because of that we can’t put a price on it but you get the picture. It’s an incredible opportunity.
If you’re a first time user of FastPass+ be sure to see our complete guide on how to utilize this service. If you’re interested in seeing the cost of FastPass+ at Disney World and elsewhere be sure to see our complete post.
If you’re looking for more details on how you can incorporate FastPass+ into getting more done, be sure to see our daily park touring plans:
- 1-Day Magic Kingdom Touring Plan
- 1-Day Animal Kingdom Touring Plan
- 1-Day Epcot Touring Plan
- 1-Day Hollywood Studios Touring Plan
Extra Magic Hours
Guests who love to get up early or stay late get a lot out of this benefit. They are extended to property hotel guests and allow them to get into a park earlier than everyone else or stay later than everyone else. Disney typically comes out with a schedule showing when they will take place and for how long.
In the old days, pre-covid, a there was typically a park that opened early and a park that stayed open late. Sometimes it was just an hour extra, sometimes it was 2 or 3. Anytime you get the chance to be at the parks with less guests is amazing so this perk is really invaluable much like the FastPass+ booking window.
Extended Dining Reservations
Around the Disney fans it’s called the 180 + 10 because guests who are staying on property can start booking 180 days in advance plus 10 extra days as Disney starts counting your entire stay once your first day hits 180. Anything after 10 tens has to wait till the actual 180 mark.
Getting priority reservations to your favorite restaurants is another invaluable perk that we always take advantage of. Grab a time for Be Our Guest Restaurant or Via Napoli. Most times and days are going to be available this far out. You can learn more about Walt Disney World Dining in our guide.
Disney Dining Plan
Only guests who stay on property can book a Disney Dining Plan. These can be very useful for families who like to plan our their meals each day. They can also potentially save you money if you know how to use them right. See our full guide on the Disney Dining Plan for more details.
Disney Theme Park Bus Transportation
Although any guest can use this transportation method once at a park or hotel, guest who stay off property do have to find a way to get there. Some off site hotels offer free transportation to the parks with your stay. Others charge you per day. These buses tend to come at hour increments which is not s convenient as Disney’s own bus system which leaves every 10-15 minutes.
Guests stay at a property hotel only need to walk to the front of the hotel and jump on a bus to get to the parks. They run all day from an hour before park opening to about 2 hours after park closing.
The transportation doesn’t end there though. Hotel guests can enjoy other modes of transportation including the Disney Skyliner and water taxis. These can be really fun ways to get from your hotel to a park or Disney Springs.
Package Delivery Service
This is one of the hidden gems of staying on property. Let’s say you get to Magic Kingdom one morning and they are selling a limited-time plush or bag. So the first thing you do is get in line and buy it. Now what? You can go ride the attractions but you’re stuck carrying it around all day. You could spend the money to get a tiny locker, or, you can have it sent to your hotel for free!
All shops are the parks offer this complimentary service to property hotel guests. Simply fill out a form at the register and the Cast Member will make sure it’s delivered to your hotel for pick up the next day. No more lugging it around the parks all day!
This benefit used to be labeled ‘free MagicBands” but at the start of 2021 Disney stopped during this for property guests. Instead they now offer discounted MagicBands for guests staying on property. It can save guests anywhere from $5-$15 per band. The selection is limited and most are just the solid colors but there are some character and theme park ones as well.
Cast Member Magic
It’s something that you can’t find anywhere else. Cast Members are an invaluable part of Disney. They help make the magic everyday with their love of Disney and professional service. You can’t find this anywhere else but Disney. So when you stay on property, the magic continues from the time you wake up till your head hits the pillow again.
We’ve had many fantastic experiences that were only made possible by Cast Members and their willingness to make our vacation the best one possible.
OFF SITE HOTEL BENEFITS
There are several hotels that have partnered with Disney to offer some of the mentioned benefits above. These typically include the 60 day FastPass+ booking window, some include the bus transportation to and from the theme parks. As we mentioned earlier, sometime staying off property can make sense money-wise if Disney is completely sold out or has outrageous prices for rooms.
However, there are some hotels that have a great mix of price, benefits and location:
- Swan and Dolphin Hotels
- Disney Springs Resort Area
- Bonnet Creek Resort Area
First, the Swan and Dolphin Resorts are very much on property but managed by a separate company. The story behind this is actually quite interesting but for now we’ll just say that these two hotels offer great prices for staying in the Epcot Resort Area, offer the 60 day FastPass+ booking window and have the bus transportation system.
Second, the Disney Springs Resort Hotels are within walking distance of the shopping center. They offer 60 days FastPass+ booking window and have fantastic price points. The only thing they lack is the transportation service directly to the parks as Disney does. Most have one, it just doesn’t run like Disney’s.
Last, the Bonnet Creek Resort Area is Disney’s best kept secret. Amazing hotels, really good price points, great room selections and a 60 day FastPass+ booking window. Again, the only thing they lack is the constant bus service but people find a way to make it work.
Gateway Hotels are ones located right off property and are also partners with Disney. There are currently six of them:
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
- Home2 Suites by Hilton
- Homewood Suites by Hilton
- Residence Inn by Marriott
- SpringHill Suites Orlando
- TownePlace Suites Orlando
All of them are located in Town Center just off property. Most of them offer transportation to the parks or a park and let you take it from there. Pricing is good and most offer larger rooms including suites.
Our point of view from all of this is to make staying at a property hotel a priority. The added value is a lot and many of the perks provided cannot be found anywhere else. Disney has done a fantastic job at giving guests a big range when it comes to resorts and pricing, from Value to Deluxe Villas.
If for some reason you can’t make it work, look at Disney Springs or Bonnet Creek resort areas for great pricing and rooms. You’ll miss out on many of the benefits Disney offers but some, like the 60 FastPass+ window is really nice.
Disney World Planning
If you’re planning to visit the Walt Disney World Resort you may want to take a look at some of our time and money saving guides. First, our Planning Guide can help you with a general overview of the resort and what to expect when planning your vacation. Second, we offer the best discount guide for Disney World Tickets. See how you can save over $60 per ticket with a simple click. Last, don’t miss out on our 1 Day Touring Plans for each of the four parks. We’ll show you how to get the most done as you avoid the crowds.
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.